To: NOW Activists and Women's Rights Supporters

From: Patricia Ireland, Kim Gandy, Karen Johnson and Elizabeth Toledo

Subject: Digital Television Project

Date: June 22, 1999


Imagine turning on your television and seeing NOW activists discussing current events without hostile opponents interrupting and distorting the message. Imagine full coverage of feminist events, actions, press conferences and meetings.

Why is this reality so remote? In large part because nine major corporations own or control almost all of the television, radio and print outlets in this country.

This media monopoly recently tightened its grip by convincing Congress to give them the ability to broadcast even more channels on the public airwaves -- and it won't cost them a dime. Use of the new digital spectrum, because it dramatically expands the capacity of current television stations, is estimated to be a $40-$70 billion resource. This is the amount that would have been generated by a public auction of these channels.

In return for this gift from Congress, broadcasters are required to "serve the public interest." But the FCC has not even scheduled hearings to establish public interest obligations, even though some stations began using the digital spectrum as of May 1. The broadcasters argue that obligations ought to be voluntary. Under existing voluntary guidelines, broadcasters consider shows like Wheel of Fortune 2000 to be children's educational programming.

The NOW Foundation has joined with allies in a campaign to establish the right and ability for communities and public interest organizations to have access to the airwaves. NOW Foundation is on the steering committee of the People for Better TV coalition (


The 1996 Congress gave away use of the public airwaves to broadcasters in exchange for an agreement to serve the "public interest." The broadcasters' promise to "serve the public interest, convenience and necessity" rings hollow when only about 12% of guests on weekend public affairs shows are women. By the time a child turns 18, she or he will have seen 40,000 murders and 200,000 violent acts on television. That is not in the public interest. How are women's interests served when 87% of all sound bites from "experts" are provided by men? And how are people of color served when 92% of those men are white? What message do our kids get when only 10% of children's educational programs have female "stars"?

We are asking supporters to send letters to the FCC requesting a hearing. We're also seeking organizational endorsements for the People for Better TV coalition. We have included a letter that you can forward to your allies inviting them to join the campaign. Enclosed in this mailing, you will find the following information, resources and ideas:

Please let us know if there is anything we can do to assist you with your organizing efforts. If you have any questions about the campaign, please call Sarah Rabin at (202) 628-8669, extension 145. Also, please send us copies of your FCC letter. We're trying to track the grassroots response in preparation for our meeting with the FCC.

As always, we deeply appreciate all of the work you do.